taste and the worthiness of life

The logic of “[Number of] [things] you must [activity] before you die” is found in books (about films, music, etc.) and magazines, and is a wonderful indictment of bourgeois life. ‘Must do before you die’ is a translation of ‘your life is meaningless… unless you do these things’.

The ‘must’ is meant to be read as a directive, or ‘command’ as psychoanalysts say, but it can also be read as a pleading, like a little kid begging for some sticky sugared preservatives in the shape of sub-tropical fruit. This sort of desperation opens up a savage existential chasm that operates on my guilt; I really can’t resist it. To the bourgies living in the existential desert of their own lives, I would be the one to say, “Oh, ffs… Let them eat cake.”

As Mel notes, the cultural activities and ‘things’ in this list seem to be an expression of strict bourgeois taste and correlative social formations. She argues that what the magazine article misses are the simple pleasures in life, or rather the meaning produced within situations that does not come from how exotic the ‘thing’ is. This is a kind of bottom-up valorisation of events that in turn relies on valorising a certain social machinery of valorisation. It needs a mobile disposition for selecting worthy moments from the everyday and an ethics of cultivating the way such moments accelerate and carry you along, so the everyday folds into itself and crosses some sort of threshold felt in the body and remembered in its emphemerality.

I wonder if anyone would attempt to complete the 20 things on the list? Or would they suffer a worse fate than simply holding onto the list as a hopeless goal and that is to make it halfway through the list only to realise that their activities are fueled by the paranoia of having lived a worthless life? By pursuing such monumental cliches that their life becomes a monument to this meaningless paranoid will-to-meaningfulness.

The logic of the recent film The Bucket List is a dramatisation of exactly this process. Both of the terminally-ill men who seek to complete the must-do’s on a list of must-do-before-we-die’s realise what they actually find worthy in life after all their fantasies have been realised. (Of course, Morgan Freeman’s character can’t complete his real dream of becoming a university professor because he has devoted his life to his family…)

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